That a well-functioning democracy depends on actively involved citizens is beyond doubt. Even in times where the sharing of information and opinion-making largely take place online, demonstrations are still an effective way to express popular dissatisfaction. Good quality demonstrations, that is. Those are peaceful and a platform for citizens to constructively criticise the government. Sadly, the nationwide demonstration for free education in London on 4 November also attracted trouble makers. Not all of those marching through the streets seemed to be there to express their belief in a welfare state which upholds the human right of education. Inappropriate chants and behaviour rendered a smooth course of the protest impossible and, in the end, played into the hands of those the protest was directed against.
Taking part in a demonstration is a tangible and physical kind of protest, because it involves marching, blocking public places, chanting, singing and other things one does not do in their everyday lives. Some protesters may have to make sacrifices of some sort, in order to be able to participate. Spending two nights on a coach travelling to the venue is just one example. The importance of the cause outweighs every effort, though. Yet, protesters hiding their faces behind scarves do not show genuine respect for that cause. Such an attitude strongly suggests that they are not interested in constructive criticism, because how could one interact and debate with phantoms? Evidently, some protesters turned up with their faces covered because that made it more likely to get away with their behaviour.
That is the other element of the protest in London which did not do justice to the importance of the cause. Some people went to the protest merely to either project hatred about the world, the system, life or some other overwhelming thing onto the police, or to exercise their scuffling skills. But politics in general and demonstrations more specifically are far too important as to serve as a stage for a cat and mouse play. Neither must they be abused to let off steam by bad boys and girls. Demonstrations are for grownups.
Furthermore, many of the chants were out of place. Burning the Tories and UKIP on a bonfire, executing the Queen or, a comparatively mild one, burning Theresa May’s house is not going to make education free. Such voices do not come from active citizens, but are manifestations of a mob mentality. As tempting as the idea of burning Nigel or Dave can be we must remember politics is for grownups only, and it must not be poisoned by emotions.
And what is this blind hatred directed onto the police officers who happen to be on duty during a demonstration? Who knows what these individuals in uniforms think of tuition fees? They were doing their job, which is trying to make sure everyone is safe. A protest usually is not, and must not be transformed into, a conflict between protesters and the police. Instead, it is about citizens criticising a government which seems not to care about the right to education. After riots had broken out, the protest was somewhat dissolved and, sadly, a final gathering did not take place as planned.
Even though it cannot be considered a failure, the demonstration in London did raise questions about the morale of some protesters. As soon as a demonstration turns into a riot driven by mob mentality, the cause of the demonstration suffers. And as if that was not enough, it plays into the hands of those opposing it, by dishonouring the practice of protesting. And that truly is a threat to democracy.